Sunday, December 1, 2019

Proper Netiquette for Business

"Netiquette" is network etiquette: The do's and don'ts of online communication. While Netiquette covers both formal (professional) and the informal rules for communicating on line, we'll focus on the formal communication rules in this post.
Writing can be divided into many different categories. One of the main divides is between informal online and formal writing:
Informal online writing is seen in text messages (texting) and also in personal emails. For many people, personal emailing is being replaced by texting. In order to more quickly type what they are trying to say, many people use abbreviations and acronyms instead of words. The language created by these abbreviations is called "text speak".

Formal writing includes business writing, formal letters, and academic writing.
The vehicle for writing (text, email, paper) is not the distinction between informal and formal writing. The style of writing is.

Some people believe that using text speak is hindering the writing abilities of students, and the communication effectiveness of professionals. While this is a debate issue, the first thing to understand is that informal writing is not "wrong", nor is formal writing "right". Each is appropriate for certain circumstances. As an analogy, while it's perfectly acceptable to go out in jeans and a t-shirt, that may not be the best choice of what to wear when working in the office or going on a job interview.

When deciding whether your message should be written formally, consider who will be reading it and why. If your audience is just your friends and the purpose of your message is to let them know about where you will meet later in the day, you probably don't need to use the rules of formal writing. However, if you are presenting a proposal to your boss, writing a cover letter for job application, or writing a research paper for a teacher, the formal rules of writing typically apply.

Some Basic Rules of using Netiquette for Formal Writing
  • Use a sophisticated vocabulary with terms that are accepted in the topic's field.
  • Keep a serious tone with literal meanings.
  • Organize the writing into paragraphs that fit together.
  • Avoid contractions (i.e. can't, don't, etc.).
  • Use standard spelling. No text speak or chat acronyms, such as "CUL8R" or "LOL".
  • Use proper grammar and standard punctuations.

For more information about Netiquette and formal writing, here are some great resources:
"The Elements of Style", William Strunk & E.B. White: First published in 1959 and updated many times since, this is one of the most influential books on writing style. 

"Netiquette IQ: A Comprehensive Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email", Paul Babicki. Paul Babicki is an email grammar, tone and content software subject matter expert, and developed an email IQ rating system called Netiquette IQ.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Friday, November 1, 2019

Email Marketing: Target Your Customers

Email marketing is when a company or person sends a message to a group of people via email. Most commonly used for advertisements, business requests, sales or donation solicitation, any email communication is considered email marketing if it helps to build customer loyalty, trust in a product or company, or brand recognition. 
Grow Your Personal Relationships
Small businesses and individuals can develop a personal relationship with their network, prospects and customers in ways that their larger counterparts simply can't match due to their size. However, growing personal connections can be time consuming with so much other work to be done.  With email marketing, you can more easily connect with your prospects without getting pulled away from the work you need to get done.

Promote Your Brand
If you were shopping for a car today, would you consider buying a Toyota or Honda? Many people would say "yes". But with all of the recent news of problems with these brands, specifically injuries from defective air bag, why would you consider these brands? The reason why is that the auto makers have used robust email marketing and social media campaigns to counter the affects of negative news reports and assure their customers and prospective customers just how much effort they continue to put into the quality of their products. The automakers are winning.

Keep Your Customers & Network Informed
Email marketing is very effective at helping business owners and consumers stay connected. Consumers often seek out email marketing campaigns from their favorite brands and local stores. On March 5, 2014, Nielsen reported that 28 percent of US online shoppers subscribe to store or product emails in order to stay informed ( There is a real value to staying connected to customers, and email marketing makes that easy to do.

Email Marketing Drives Sales by Promoting Brand Loyalty
The same Nielsen study mentioned above also reported that 27 percent of US online shoppers subscribe to store or product emails in order to save money. Though consumers are looking to save money, it can turn into increased revenue for your business. E-coupons and e-promotions are big business, and email marketing is at its heart.

Promoting your business and brand through email is one of the most visible aspects of social media marketing. It's a great way to keep and win new customers, enhance existing relationships and promote your brand. In addition, you will be able to accomplish all that and keep your marketing costs and effort minimal and manageable.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Effect of Micromanagement

Micromanagement is, "to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details" - Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.

In general, micromanagement has a negative meaning and implication, and is viewed unfavorably by supervised employees. Let's discuss the issues of micromanaging employees and how to identify if you are a micromanager.
Most people who have been in the workforce for any length of time have occasionally been exposed to a boss who micromanages. A micromanager is the manager who must personally make every decision, take a lead role in the performance of every significant task and, in extreme cases, dictate every small step the workers take. The micromanager hovers over people who are trying to get their work done and rarely, if ever, seriously considers their ideas and opinions.

Some Critical Effects of Micromanagement
The micromanager often punishes mistakes instead of counseling & educating staff. No effort is made to challenge employees with learning situations. This type of management can inhibit employee development. In the end, employees will learn to hide their mistakes and avoid taking risks.

Most employees are unhappy in the work place when they are micromanaged. Unhappy employees are less productive than happy employees. In addition, this may cause a high turnover on your team as unhappy employees leave, which will further affect your team's productivity.

A manager who has done nothing to develop one or more potential successors is usually viewed as a poor candidate for promotion. The manager who is perceived as poor at delegation and staff development is often not considered for promotion to a level where delegation takes on even greater importance.

You Might be a Micromanager if you...
  • Cannot delegate effectively or delegate at all.
  • Often hand out only the easy, boring or dirty tasks while delegating nothing of interest or importance to your team.
  • When you do delegate, you put the employee in a position of deciding nothing of significance without prior approval.
  • Hand out work, supposedly delegating, but hover instead, providing detailed direction, dictating methods rather than providing proper preparation, making the employee responsible for results and not allowing him or her to figure anything out and learn by doing.
  • Hand out a task, but pull it back at the first sign of trouble, failing to provide the employee with a condition essential to growth and development: the reasonable freedom to fail.
When Micromangment may Actually be Helpful
Most managers have to deal with a poorly performing employee at some point. Poor employee performance is a concern because it affects team and organizational performance.

The goal of improving a poor performer is to improve their performance. A means to doing so is to meet privately and frequently with the employee to discuss the performance issues. Assign tasks and provide specific direction, expectations and a timeline to the employee. Then, monitor, measure and discuss their performance during those frequent meetings. To some, this approach seems like micromanagement, and it may well be. The difference is that once the employee's performance improves, you will meet with them less frequently.

Letting Go of Micromanagement
The difference between managing and micromanaging is the focus on eliminating the “micro.” Start by looking at your to-do list to determine what tasks you can pass on to an employee. Clearly explain what the task result and due date should be, but don't dictate how the employee should work on the task. Ask, don't tell, your employee about how they plan to approach the assignment. You might be surprised that their approach, while different, may yield great results.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What Does Net Neutrality Mean to You?

Net neutrality (also known as "network neutrality", "internet neutrality", or "net equality") is the principle that internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the internet equally, not discriminating or charging differently by user, content, site, platform, application, or mode of communication.*
In May 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a plan that would have allowed internet service provider companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to discriminate online and create pay-to-play fast lanes. Essentially, the big internet providers would have had the power to decide on what content moves the fastest on the web based on who pays the most. 

Thanks to a huge public and political outcry, Chairman Wheeler shelved his original proposal. In February 2015, he announced that he would base new Net Neutrality rules giving internet users protections from any attempt to pay-to-play. The core net neutrality provisions are bans on blocking and throttling traffic. Broadband providers will not be allowed to block or degrade access to content, applications, websites, and services, or favor some traffic over others in exchange for payment.

Why Net Neutrality is Important for Businesses
Net Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs who rely on the open Internet to launch their businesses, create a market, advertise their products and services, and distribute products to customers. It ensures the web is a level playing field. It’s because of Net Neutrality that small businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive on the internet. They use the internet to reach new customers and showcase their goods, applications and services. We need the open internet to foster job growth from small businesses, competition and innovation.

Why Net Neutrality is Important for Individuals
The open internet allows individuals and community organizations to tell their own stories. The open internet gives marginalized voices opportunities the opportunity to be heard. But without Net Neutrality, internet service providers could have blocked unpopular topics from reaching the masses. And without Net Neutrality, many small businesses would not be able to compete against larger corporations online.

"An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known." - Barack Obama: November 2014

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David Schuchman     Princeton Technology Advisors
* Wikipedia

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Responsive Website Design: Can This Replace Mobile Apps?

Many business owners struggle with whether they should design a responsive website that works across devices or focus exclusively on building native mobile apps. Choosing between a responsive website or a native mobile app is more of a business call than that of technical capabilities. Since mobile app development may require a large investment, a responsive web design may be a terrific solution.
Why Have a Mobile Presence
Mobile access gives your business the opportunity to interact with customers in real time. In addition, it allows you to expand your customer base beyond traditional website users by providing on-demand access to valuable information wherever the user is located. An effective mobile presence can produce an engaged customer, which often translates into a paying customer.

A Challenge with Native Mobile Apps
Native mobile apps are software programs that are developed specifically for smaller, handheld devices, such as tablet computers or mobile phones. Properly developed, they present a user experience optimized for each viewing device. The challenge you may experience in choosing to build a mobile app is that it can become an expensive proposition for when you want to reach mobile users. That's because mobile app development is platform specific, and the apps must be recreated for each desired platform.

As of February 2015*, the most common mobile platforms in the US are Android (46.9%), iOS (42.6%), Windows Phone (2.7%) and all others (7.8%). In order to reach the maximum number of mobile users, you must plan to individually build each mobile app for multiple platforms. If, for example, you chose to only build one instance of a mobile app on the Android platform, you are missing 53.1% of the mobile market users.

What is Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design is building a website suitable to work on a browser on most every device and every screen size, no matter how large or small, mobile or desktop. Responsive web design is focused around crafting websites to provide an intuitive and gratifying experience for everyone. Websites created with a responsive design adapt the layout to the viewing environment. 

Unfortunately, most websites are not optimized for mobile and other devices with smaller screens. They are designed for large screen displays such desktop monitors. Mobile devices are often constrained by display size and require a different approach to how content is laid out on screen.

There is a multitude of different screen sizes across desktops, laptops, tablets, 2-in-1's, phones, game consoles, TVs, and wearables. The use of mobile devices to surf the web is growing at an almost astronomical pace. Since the screen sizes are different and always changing, it’s important that your website can adapt to any screen size, today or in the future.

Click on the video image to see how a Responsive Web Design responds to size changes.

The User Experience
In order for a user to have a mobile app, they usually must download it and install it on their device one time. Typically, the installation includes placing an icon on the device's interface used to start the mobile app.

In order to access a responsively designed website, the user must start the web browser already installed on their device, and then enter the website's URL (web address). It is easier and faster to start a mobile app by clicking the app's icon. In addition, the information presented will be formatted specifically for the platform. However, once the user accesses the website via the browser, they can save the URL as a "favorite" so as not to have to reenter it each time they want to access the website. 

If You Want an Effective Mobile Presence
If your current website is not responsive, you will need to upgrade or replace your website to effectively accommodate mobile devices. Or, you will need to build native mobile apps for one or more mobile platforms. In general, the cost to build a mobile app for one or more platforms will far exceed the cost of upgrading your website to be of a responsive design.

Deciding between a having responsive website or mobile app is a business decision where you will need to consider several factors (e.g. user experience, industry norms, your competition, etc.) in addition to the cost. When cost is a large factor in your decision, consider a responsive website design as a cost effective means to gain a strong mobile presence.

For more information on this topic, contact Princeton Technology Advisors, LLC.


I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Monday, July 1, 2019

Using the Cloud for Data Backups

There are two kinds of organizations in the world: Those that have lost critical data, and those that will. If you use technology long enough and neglect to back up your data, a single unfortunate incident can destroy your data and negatively impact your business. The solution is to back up everything that is important. Using an external hard drive or tape system can be an inconvenient or time-consuming task. That’s why more organizations are turning to managed cloud services for data backup.

The reason you want to think about the cloud for your backup storage is because it offers tremendous protection and availability to protect your data. One of the biggest benefits of protecting data in the cloud is that the cloud is not in your own data center. It doesn't take the resources of your data center. If something were to happen in your data center, you would still be able to fall back to this external resource.

Another advantage to backing up your data to the cloud is that, with a proper service level agreement, you'll have an actively managed, proven technology and expertise supported by your service provider. In addition to your in-house IT resources, which may be limited, you will have access to your service provider's professional resources should you need to recover your data.

Additional advantages of a cloud-based backup solution, which you may need to request and verify that your storage service provider offers, are:
  • Backups of backups: Your data is always stored off-site and is redundantly copied to other servers in different locations. If one location becomes unavailable, your data can be backed up or retrieved from elsewhere on the backup network without a service interruption.
  • Security: Data is encrypted by the backup service provider’s software program from your computer or network before it is sent to the cloud, so thieves on the internet cannot access it.
  • Virus protection: The backup service software detects any virus or infection before data is sent. If a virus is found, that file is not copied to the backup service. You will be notified that the corrupted file has not been deleted from your computer. In this case, you won’t lose any data, but that data won’t be backed up online.

There are some caveats about using cloud based backup solutions. While these can often be mitigated via your backup and recovery strategies, you need to be aware they exist:
  • Cost: While usually less costly from a capital expense perspective, a cloud-based backup solution can be more expensive from an operating expense perspective as compared to on-site backups . Typically, you will pay a monthly or annual subscription based on the amount of data stored on the service provider's servers as well as for their professional services.

  • Perform a business risk assessment. Also, do a cost-benefit analysis of your backup storage options. You may see that the risk mitigation benefit will exceed the cost.
  • Capacity: Cloud-based backups may not be best for large backups such as a large number of files, or very large files such as data bases. Since some internet providers limit the amount of data you can send and receive in a month. You may need to avoid large backups that cause you to exceed their stop-limits or trigger over-utilization charges.

  • Perform incremental backups. That is, instead of sending all of your data to the backup site on a scheduled basis. Send all of your data only once when you implement your solution. Then, only send the changes to the data on a scheduled basis. Make sure that your service provider can properly archive incremental changes, and restore your data at any point of time. While you typically do not have a need to recover large blocks of data, have a recovery strategy in place for when you need to do so.
  • Speed: It can take a long time to back up large backups online, even with a broadband connection.

  • The same Mitigation for "Capacity" applies here

Considering your resources with the consequences of hardware malfunctions, human errors, software corruption and man-made or natural disasters can keep you from focusing on your many strategic initiatives. With a cloud data backup solution, you can gain the peace of mind that your data are protected and available for recovery when the time comes.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Things a New Team Manager Should Do First

When you join a team as its leader, either taking over an existing team or starting a new one, it generally creates some nervousness. Everyone wants to know what you’re going to change and where you’re going to take the direction of the team.

Your actions in the first few weeks can have a major impact on whether your team ultimately delivers results. Unfortunately some new leaders skip over the basics of team building.

Be as open and transparent about what you’re thinking as quickly as possible. You can start by outlining your 30-day plan. While you may not yet have opinions specific to the business, you can tell people what you want to learn about and evaluate. You may not yet know your strategy, but you can certainly talk about your values, priorities, and observations. The more transparent you can be, the more comfortable people will feel being candid with you.

Figure out What People Really Want to do
Meet with all of your direct reports individually for at least an hour within your first week. Ask them about what they really enjoy doing and what they aspire to be doing in the next 2 to 3 years. It can often be the case that the role the individual is in today is not necessarily fully utilizing their skills or motivating them to be their absolute best. Being genuinely interested in what’s going on within the organization builds credibility, and generally makes you more approachable.

Get Your Hands Dirty
Spend time doing the work that your team actually does. Not only does this help establish you as someone who leads by example, but you also learn first-hand about all of the different challenges that people experience every day. If you can understand what it’s fundamentally like to be on the front lines of your team, you have the perspective when making larger strategic decisions and communicating them to your team.

Be Decisive
Once you have a good lay of the land, explicitly lay out your vision and then plan to start moving toward it. People feel less unrest when they understand the bigger picture and can see where things are heading. This is often the hardest thing to do when you’re new, and can be difficult to recover from if you don’t do it.

Getting people to work together can be a challenge. And, being new is rarely easy. But if you take the time to get to know your team, chances are they will follow you when you step up and lead.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Search Engine Optimization: On-Page vs. Off-Page

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a digital marketing strategy focused on growing visibility of your website in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to your website on the web. Let's begin to look at On Page and Off Page SEO...

Why Your Website Needs SEO
The majority of web traffic is driven by the major search engines (e.g. Google, Bing, and Yahoo!). Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method of navigation for most internet users. Search engines provide traffic to your website from people looking for what you offer. Traffic to your website can provide income, exposure and promote your brand. If the search engines cannot find your website, your website is functionally irrelevant. Thus, you miss out on the opportunities to drive traffic to your website.

How Search Engines Search
Search engines perform two major functions: crawling and index building. The result of crawling and index building is what allows the search engines to rank websites and match users with the most relevant results to their search:
  • Crawling - Search engines have automated robot programs, called "crawlers" or "spiders". The purpose of these programs is to run all the time to reach the many billions of web pages and documents. Then, it sends the information it finds back to the search engines.
  • Index Building - Once the search engines receive the web page information from the crawlers, they decipher the relevant information from them and store that in massive databases to be recalled when needed for a search query. Index building is the process of organizing and relating all of the information in the massive databases.
Keywords are the words and phrases that internet users type into the search box of a search engine to find websites that match for what they are looking. They are very important for every website since they drive targeted traffic to your website. When done well, using the right keywords can greatly increase website traffic.

On-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the content on your actual website pages. Your focus is the act of optimizing different parts of your website with relevant keywords, which will affect your search engine rankings. Some of the the biggest factors in On-Page SEO to consider are:
  • Title Tags - Put your targeted keywords in the title tag of each page on your site. 
  • Headings (H1 tag) - Headings are usually the largest words on the page, and for that reason, search engines give them a little more weight than your other page copy.  Work your target keywords into the headings of each web page. But, make sure you accurately reflect your page content.
  • URL Structure - Put keywords into your web page URLs if possible. However, do not change any of your current web page URLs just so they have keywords in them. That's because the SEO you have already earned will become broken.
  • Alt Text For Images – This is text that isn't visible to the website visitor. Search engines crawl images as well as written content. So, inserting some relevant keywords that accurately describing the image will help search engines understand your web page's content.
  • Page Content - The content on your web pages needs to useful to people. It needs to be easy to read and provide value to the end user. Be sure you create content on your website targeting the keywords that will be relevant to online searchers and search engines.
  • Internal Linking - Linking internally to other pages and documents on your website is useful to website visitors, and it is also useful to search engines.
On-page SEO ensures that your website can be read by both potential customers and search engine robots. With good on-page SEO, search engines can easily understand what your site is about, navigate the structure and content of your website, and rank your website accordingly.

Off-Page SEO
Off-page SEO is the process of getting other websites to link to your website. Those links are called back links. When search engines find back links to your website, it increases the relevancy of your website in the search engine index.

Do I Start with On-Page or Off-Page SEO?
Don't choose between on-page and off-page SEO. On-page and off-page SEO work together to improve your search engine rankings in complementary fashion

On-page SEO is typically quicker and easier to implement. The reason why is that you should have the ability to change any of the visible and hidden content on your own website. So, start with on-page SEO. Ways to build back links to your website for off-page SEO are:
  • Add your website link to your social media pages (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Blog, etc.).
  • Ask friends, business associates and vendors to add your website link to their websites. In exchange, offer to do the same for them.
  • Promote your website via social media and other digital marketing platforms to create interest. Encourage those content readers to add you link to your website.
  • Offer to write content, articles or blog posts for other website. In your provided content, put a link to your website.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post. Also, I welcome comments, which you can post below.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Phishing, not Fishing

Wikipedia defines fishing as, "the activity of trying to catch a fish". However, Wikipedia additionally defines phishing as "the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication". Let's talk more about "phishing"...

What is Fishing
Fishing is a sporting activity where the participant tries to catch fish. We're not going to discuss this further at this time :-)

What is Phishing
Phishing is a cyber-crime. The cyber criminal's targets are typically contacted by email (although telephone or text message can be used) by posing as a legitimate institution. The goal is to lure individuals into being fooled into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords. If the phishing attack is successful, it can have devastating results for the victims.

How a Phishing Scam can Work
An attacker sends out thousands of fraudulent messages in attempt to acquire significant information or large sums of money. The fraudulent messages are designed to look like real messages. It's essentially a numbers game. Even if only a small percentage of recipients fall for the scam, the reward can be plentiful.

As a made-up example... an attacker targets alumnus from a university asking for donations. The message will contain a logo from the university, include names of school programs and appear  to be sent from the alumni director, a dean or even the school president. They even use an email address that may look like the real email address. Then, then message will direct you to a phony website that looks like your university's website with logos and other information likely copied from the real website. While your university's real website address might be "", the phony website address might look like "". At first glance, some people will be fooled.

How to Protect Yourself from Phishing
Vigilance is important:
  • Keep your operating system, anti-spam and anti-malware programs current with all updates. This will help block some phishing attacks, or even block attacks trying to access your system via an automated means.
  • Phony messages contain subtle differences or mistakes. In addition to the website address difference as above, they may have a phony physical address, phony email address or even simple spelling mistakes.
  • Be wary of tight deadlines or even threats. If the message indicates you need to pay quickly, pay a fine or send cash, that might not be a legitimate message.
  • Such messages sometimes don't address you by name (e.g. Dear Sir/Madam). A legitimate message from an organization that knows you will likely address you personally.
  • When asked to pay online, make sure you are using a secure website. Secure websites start with "https", not "http" to encrypt the connection between the browser and server. A phishing website may not have the SSL configured.
Always make sure you know and trust the person or entity that sends you an email. By exercising a little caution and attentiveness, you can avoid the dangers and problems from a phishing attack.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post. Also, I welcome comments, which you can enter below.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How a VPN Keeps You Safe When Using WiFi

Nowadays, WiFi hacking is a common occurrence. Whether your mobile device (PC, tablet or smartphone) is connected to the internet via a private or public WiFi, your connection to the internet may not be as secure or private as you may think. When using WiFi you are vulnerable to theft of your data, or worse - your personal information and finances.
Your Internet Connection
When in or outside of your home, you connect to the internet via a router. Most home routers have built-in WiFi, and most stores and offices have WiFi added to their network. Since a WiFi service can cost $40/month or more, or you may be asked to pay an hourly charge to connect in public, it's not uncommon for people to search for and use free WiFi.

The features that make free WiFi desirable for you also make it desirable for hackers. That being, it requires no authentication to establish an internet connection. And, it may easily be hacked (illegally accessed) to gain access to the online users. Not taking the necessary precautions can lead to lasting harm. For mobile devices, the harm is digital: the theft of your personal data, such as passwords, financial information, and private documents, pictures and videos.

How Hackers Get Access to Your PC Data
The most common method of attack is known as “Man in the Middle.” In this method, internet traffic is intercepted between the end-user’s device and the destination by making the victim think the hacker’s machine is the access point to the internet. In this case, you log on to the free WiFi at your location thinking you’re joining the provider's network. But somewhere nearby, a hacker is broadcasting a stronger WiFi signal from their laptop or smartphone. They trick you into using it by labeling it with the location's name (e.g. Library Free WiFi). Recognizing the name of the location where you are, you innocently connect to the hacker’s network. As you surf the web or do your online banking, all your activity is being monitored and even captured by the hacker.

Also, if you use the location's actual WiFi, it is often unsecured and vulnerable to a hacker's intrusion. Even WiFi that requires a password can be hacked when the hacker uses a password hacking tool.

Although antivirus protection and firewalls are reliable methods of cyber defense, they are useless against hackers that gained access to WiFi networks. That's because the hackers are not using virus software to gain access to your devices. You willingly connect your device to an unsecured network essentially allowing the hacker to look at what you are doing.

I read a nice analogy of how theft occurs when you are using public internet. Imagine you are walking on a crowded sidewalk or in a busy mall. You just left one place and you're heading to your next destination. Lots of people are walking around you. While you feel safe, you accidentally bump into another person. While you did not intend to bump into that person, they may have intended to bump into you. The end result is that person picked your pocket.

What is a VPN?
With a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you create a secure, encrypted tunnel between your computer and a remote VPN server. The data is essentially gibberish to anyone who might even be able to intercept it. A VPN will also protect you when you inadvertently connect the the hacker's WiFi.

So, consider the same scenario about the crowded sidewalk. In this case, before you leave to go to your next destination, you initiate a tunnel that lets you walk privately and securely alongside the other people. Nobody can get into your private tunnel while you have it turned on. Even if they can see you are in your tunnel, they can't see who you are. So, nobody can "pick your pocket".

A VPN can be either hardware or software. For most personal devices, the VPN is a software application or app. For a medium to larger computer network, the VPN may be its own network appliance or software within another network device.

How a VPN Protects You
To become protected by a personal VPN, you typically subscribe to a VPN software service. You pay for a subscription monthly or annually, usually at a cost of a few dollars per month. Many of the VPN providers offer a big discount for your initial subscription. Some subscriptions cover one device, others cover multiple devices. Once you install the software on your device, here's what you do when on public WiFi:
  1. Using your device, find and connect to the public WiFi, even if it is completely free and does not require a password. That establishes your internet connection.
  2. Now that you have an internet connection, start your VPN app.
  3. Follow the VPN app login instructions. That will connect your device to the VPN service and establish the secure VPN tunnel.
You may now surf the web securely.

VPN Providers
While I will not recommend any specific VPN app providers in this post, here is a list of a few of the popular VPN software, as per CNET: NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, PureVPN and CyberGhost VPN.

Alternatives to Using a VPN
If  you don't yet have a VPN service, consider these steps to reduce your risk of a security breach when using public WiFi:
  • Don’t use public WiFi to shop online, log in to your financial institution, open your email, or access other sensitive sites - not ever! While hackers may see your activity, at least they won't see your means to access data.
  • Implement two-factor authentication when logging into sensitive sites. That way if hackers have the passwords to your online banking, social media or email accounts, they won’t be able to log in. The online account service will send your device a code (the 2nd level of authentication), but not via the internet (e.g. a text message) to confirm your access.
  • Turn off the automatic WiFi connectivity feature on your device so it won’t automatically seek out and connect to public internet hot spots.
  • Turn off your Bluetooth connection on your device when in public places to ensure others are not intercepting your transfer of data.
  • Acquire an unlimited data plan for your mobile devices. Then, use the device's cellular data plan for your internet activity and stop using public WiFi.

The more you take your chances with using a public WiFi connection, the greater the likelihood that you will suffer some type of security breach. The better you protect yourself, the greater your chance of minimizing the potential damage. Using a VPN is a very reliable way to minimize the risk of a data breach when using public WiFi.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post. Also, I welcome comments, which you can enter below.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Get Your Website Noticed: Slowly or Quickly

Most websites get their traffic from search engine results such as Google, Bing and others. With millions of websites vying for viewer attention on the internet, how can you make yours stand out from the crowd? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) can be strategies to use.
How Search Engines Work
The internet search engines have programs called "crawlers" or "bots" that continually run 24 x 7 searching the internet for website content. They look for new websites, web pages and text within web pages. As those programs find information about websites and content, they send that information back to their home system to be cataloged and indexed. 

To find websites via a search engine, you enter a search term in the search box. The search engines use their algorithms to provide you with a ranked list from their index of what web pages and documents you should be most interested in based on the search term you entered.

Since I have blogged on SEO previously (e.g. The Worst Website, SEO Best Practices for Website Domains and Search Engine Optimization: On-Page vs. Off-Page), I won't go into the mechanics of it in this post. Instead, let's compare SEO to Pay-Per-Click for getting your website noticed.

Slowly: Search Engine Optimization
Boosting visibility to your website, and ultimately your number of visitors, is a combination of several factors that can have long-term benefits. You need to optimize your website so it can be found easily by search engines (hence, Search Engine Optimization) so the search engines can tell people that your website is relevant to their search.

Optimizing your website by embedding relevant keywords in your content is an easy way to make it more visible to the search engines. In order to get the result you hope for, select the keywords that your audience is likely to use. Don't select the keywords based only on how you see your business or what you want to convey. If your audience is primarily industry people (e.g. vendors, industry-savvy clients, peers), you should use industry terms. If your audience is not primarily industry people (e.g. retail or non-industry customers), then use terms that lay people will use.

While updating your content can be quick, it may take 4 to 6 months for you to start seeing the search engine visibility results from your content changes. That's because it can take that long for the "crawlers" or "bots" to revisit your website, find the new content, and understand the relevancy of the new content to everything else it has stored in their index. If you then look to make additional changes based on your observed results, it may take another 4 to 6 months to see the effect of those content changes. That cycle tends to be typical with content changes.

While it can take 4 months or more for search engines to find your website based on keyword entry, the benefit of SEO is that the results are very durable. Once you have honed your SEO implementation and the search engines understand the relevancy of your website's content to search terms, the search engines will remember your website when similarly searched (assuming they don't change their algorithm, which does happen occasionally). Therefore, SEO is a viable and important mid-to-long term strategy for getting your website audience visibility.

Quickly: Pay-Per Click
Essentially, Pay-Per-Click is advertising. The 2 most popular forms of PPC are Google Ads and social media advertising. In a Google Ad campaign, you create an ad (typically that's free) and have Google list the ad for your website at or near the top the regular search listings. When someone clicks on your ad, you pay an agreed upon cost for the click from your budget. Google gives you guidance as to how much a click will cost for a specific search keyword or term. Once your entire budget has been depleted, Google stops running your ad until you replenish your budget fund. You set the budget amount, timeline and geographic location.

The budget amount can be a set amount with no term period or can be an amount set for a specific and periodic term. Let's assume a click will cost you $1.00 and you have a budget of $1,000:
  • When you have an ad with no set time limit, your ad will yield 1,000 clicks to your website no matter how long that takes - 1 day, 1,000 days or more.
  • When you set the budget amount to a term, such as $20 per day. That means that once 20 people clicked on your site for a single day (at any time of the day), the ad will stop displaying until the next day. The next day, the budget will reset and you may receive up to 20 clicks again. Assuming you get 20 clicks each day, your ad will last for 50 days.
Your budget can also identify a geographic region for display. If your business is local, your region may be 1 or more zip codes, one or more counties or one or more states. Google will display the ad on a person's search engine results when they are physically located in the region you set. The person's region is typically determined by the IP address of the network where the person is using Google. By limiting the region, you extend the term of your budget since people outside of your region will not see or click on the ad.

Google Ads are not affected by SEO, crawlers or bots, or the search engine algorithms. Once activated, the ad displays your website in the search result at the very moment a person enters a search term that matches your ad. Hence, the impact of PPC is immediate. On the other hand, when you discontinue the ad, or you exceed your budget, the ad immediately stops displaying your website. Either way, it does not affect the search engine index or SEO growth you are working to build.

Pay-Per-Click is available on Bing as well as Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. While we won't go into the details of those products in this post, suffice it to say that the basic intent and functionality are similar across platforms.

SEO results can be slow to achieve. You need time to develop the content to achieve strong organic visibility. And, you need patience while the search engines relate the indexed content to search terms.

There is no faster way to get your website in front of customers at the moment they are ready to buy than via PPC search engine advertising.

Improve your organic traffic. While organic search is not quick or easy to attain, it's very long lasting and durable once attained.
PPC appears at or near the top of the search result content. Typically a user will always see the paid search ads ahead of the organic ads.

Once your website attains a good ranking, your competitors need to work that much harder to display ahead of you.
Your ad displays for as long as your budget and campaigns are active. Once a campaign exceeds your budget or terms, your ad no longer displays.

Your website visibility is not bound by any specific geography or key word constraints. The search engine algorithms will display your website based on the relevance of the website content to the search terms entered.

When you need an assured, laser-focused advertisement., PPC allows you to target your geographic region and specific search terms to achieve your results.
SEO is essentially free. While you can hire a consultant to help you implement and monitor SEO, once implemented the organic nature of the growth occurs without any cost.
PPC campaigns can be expensive. It's important that you set your goals and budget as specifically as possible. Then, monitor your cost and performance. If not, you may find that your advertising cost is more that you would like.

So which is better? That's not a vaild question to ask. Both are strategies that are available to the website owner, and they are meant to be used for different reasons or to compliment each other. Use both wisely and effectively, but to acheilve different goals and results. One approach might be to use PPC for about 3-4 months until SEO begins to take hold. Or, use PPC to get immediate attention to specific or short-term campaigns, while using SEO to build a solid organic hold in the search engines.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post. Also, I welcome comments, which you can enter below.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tips for Safe Internet Browsing

The Internet can be a dangerous place for those who are careless. Visit the wrong website and you can infect your computer with malicious software that will steal your data, or encrypt your data and demand a ransom for its return. We continually use the internet for our personal and business needs. Even though we are very comfortable using the internet, we cannot ignore basic internet safety rules. Here are some tips to help keep you safe when using the internet.
Keep Your Guard Up
Always be cautious about what you do online, which websites you visit, and what you share with/from others. Use comprehensive virus protection and malware protection software on your devices. Make sure you backup your data on a regular basis in case something bad happens to your device. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you are connecting to an unsecured WiFi network, such as from a library, coffee shop or other public place. By taking preventative measures, you can save yourself from issues that may arise later.

Use a Reputable Browser
Some browsers have implemented technology which checks the reputation of a website address before they allow the website to open in the browser. If the website’s reputation is bad, you’ll receive an alert from the browser. You can then choose not open the website or to proceed to the website. The best browsers for internet safety are:

Do Not Use the Browser's "Save Password" Option
A browser's built-in password manager is extremely convenient. This is the option when you enter a used ID & password on a web page, then the browser offers to save that information so you do not need to enter it again the next time you go to that website. However, this option is also insecure. This is an especially dangerous option when you are using a computer that is shared by others (at work or even at home with family), or via a laptop that may become lost or stolen. You can turn off a browser's save password option via the program's settings. If you want to save your IDs and passwords via a system, use a password protected file (e.g. Word, Excel, etc.) or an automated solution like LastPass.

Change Your Password After a Breach/Hack
A breach is when a website service you regularly use with a login (e.g. email, online banking, music or video streaming, online shopping, etc.) informs you that their system was hacked and it's likely your account ID and password was exposed. When alerted, change your password immediately and use a new password you never previously used. Actually, it's a sound practice to periodically change your account passwords - every 60-90 days is usually sufficient.

Turn on Two-Factor Authentication When Possible
Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security designed to ensure that you're the only person who can access your account online, even if someone found out your password. It adds a quick extra step to your basic log-in procedure. The user ID and password is your first factor of authentication. Two-factor authentication adds a second level of authentication to an account login after you successfully enter your user ID and password. Examples of the second factor in two-factor authentication are:
  • Answer a set of challenge questions (e.g. What is the name of your first pet?).
  • The website you login to sends a text code to your cell phone. You then retrieve the code from the text message and enter that into the website's web page.
  • Connect a FOB or a bio-metric device (e.g. finger print scanner) to your computer, tablet ofrphone.

Only Visit Secure Websites
A secure website means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. Encryption helps to protect your data and identity from those trying to access your information while you are online. You can identify secure websites by looking for an address that starts with "https:" (the "s" stands for secure) rather than an address that simply starts with "http:". These websites may also be marked by a padlock icon next to the website address in the address bar, such as in this image:

Today, we use the internet for almost everything: We stay informed, do research, make connections, shop, do banking, play and work online. However in the digital world, internet safety should be on the top of everyone's mind. By exercising a bit of caution and being vigilant, you can stay safe and better protect your data while on the internet.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog post. Also, I welcome comments, which you can enter below.